Paddle craft

Paddle craft are vessels such as canoes, kayaks, row boats, surf skis and stand up paddle boards.

This page has information for operators of all paddle craft, including the lifejackets you are required to wear; the safety equipment you must carry on board and the rules of safe operation.

Licensing and registration

You are only required to hold a marine licence and register your vessel with VicRoads if the vessel is fitted with a means of propulsion.

Low-powered kayak and canoe exemption

Paddlers of certain low-powered kayaks and canoes are permanently exempt from licensing and registration rules in Victoria from 1 July 2020. Read more: Exemption for low-powered kayaks and canoes now permanent

Lifejackets

Under the Marine Safety Regulations all persons on board a kayak, canoe, rowing boat must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway on any waterway.

Operators of stand up paddleboards (SUPs) are required to wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway when more than 400m from the shore of any waterway.

Our Wear A Lifejacket website has everything you need to know about: lifejacket laws in Victoria; what jacket you need to wear, when; choosing the right lifejacket for your lifestyle; and looking after your lifejacket.

Other safety equipment

When operating canoes, kayaks, row boats, surf skis and stand up paddle boards you must carry the minimum safety equipment for human powered vessels, unless operating motorised kayaks and canoes, when you must carry the minimum safety equipment for powerboats.

  • Make sure your safety equipment is in good working condition and is easily accessible.
  • Make sure you are visible to other boaters. You will not always be seen because your vessel sits low on the water
  • Take a mobile phone and/or personal locator beacon (PLB) with you
  • To avoid losing your paddle(s) attach it/them to your vessel with shock cord(s)
  • Take a buoyant waterproof torch with you. You might not intend to operate at night but if you run into trouble a torch will help you attract attention
  • A large sponge can absorb any unwanted water that enters your vessel
  • Attach reflective tape to your vessel and paddles to increase visibility
  • Display some identification on your vessel. Your car registration or a telephone number are good examples. This may assist with identifying who you are in the event you become separated from your vessel.

The trip preparation section of this website has a full list of paddle safety equipment, including more information on the individual items and how to use them.

Trip preparation

Learn how to Prepare to survive:

  1. Wear a lifejacket
  2. Lock in a buddy plan
  3. Carry a distress beacon
  4. Practise getting back on
  5. Know the weather

We've produced a flyer for recording your trip details to leave with a friend or relative. If you would like us to send you an "I've gone paddling" flyer, email your postal address to education@transportsafety.vic.gov.au. The flyer has a shiny surface - so the flyer is reusable if you write on it with a water-based marker that can be easily wiped off.

Safe operation

Paddlers should:

  • Wear suitable clothing for the conditions
  • Obey the rules of the waterway that you are operating on, be vigilant about your route and avoid shipping lanes
  • Make sure you know what to do in an emergency
  • If you capsize, stay with your vessel - it is much easier to spot in the water than a person
  • At night, carry a white light easily visible to approaching vessels
  • Where possible, travel in a group to maximise your safety.

The safe operation section of our website has more information on vessel handling, buoyage and navigation and operating rules.

In an emergency

Learn how not to end up in the water by using support and bracing strokes. If you end up in the water, stay with your craft – it is much easier for rescuers to see, and it enables you to reach for your safety equipment.

Learn the paddle float rescue, paddle float roll, or re-enter and roll. The eskimo roll is the best and fastest self-rescue if overturned in a craft.

How many people can I carry?

If the vessel is a decked canoe or kayak or is otherwise fitted with individual cockpits, the number of persons carried on the vessel must not exceed the number of individual cockpits in the vessel, irrespective of the age of the person.

The vessel handling section of our website has more information on safe loading.

Sea kayaking

Sea kayaking is a magnificent recreation that can take you to many wild and pristine places along our coast. However, paddling a small craft involves risks that may prevent return to shore.

Conditions change quickly at sea and your training and equipment are your greatest aids to survival. We have worked with the Victorian Sea Kayak Club to produce a brochure on safe sea kayaking.

Download the brochure as a PDF or accessible Word document

Photo of a man kayak fishing

Download the information on this page as a PDF brochure: